The City Council voted Wednesday to to a man shot and paralyzed by Los Angeles police in 2005 as he left the scene of a drive-by shooting, according to Council President Herb Wesson and Councilman Bernard Parks.
The 8-4 vote in closed session went against the advice of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who advised the council that appealing the case was risky and could lead to a much larger financial hit to the city.
Council members Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Bernard Parks and Jan Perry voted in favor of settling the case, according to a city clerk. Councilmen Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes and Mitch Englander were not present for the vote.
A federal jury ruled in February that the shooting of Robert Contreras was unjustified, but separate LAPD and civilian Police Commission investigations concluded the officers acted appropriately.
It is unclear whether the city will appeal the jury's ruling, try to negotiate a lower settlement amount or let a second trial phase to determine damages play out.
Contreras, then 19, drove a van from the scene of a drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles. After police began chasing the van, Contreras and two others bailed out of the vehicle and took off on foot about four blocks from the shooting scene.
Officers Julio Benevides and Mario Flores reported seeing Contreras jump out of the van with a gun. They chased him, then fired on the suspect after he turned toward the officers. Contreras was shot first in the ankle and subsequently multiple times in the side and back. He was holding a cell phone, but no gun was found.
After serving time in prison for participating in the 2005 drive-by shooting that resulted in the chase, Contreras filed a federal lawsuit against the city, alleging the officers violated his civil rights.
His lawyers argued the shooting of Contreras -- who was left paralyzed from the waist down, with limited use of his arms -- was "excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances" and violated his right to a reasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. A jury in February ruled unanimously against the city.
Trutanich's office negotiated the $4.5 million settlement with Contreras to avoid a potentially much larger fine for damages, a figure that could be as high as $12 million, according to one source.
Contreras' future medical care was estimated at between $4 million and $8 million.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck opposed the settlement.
Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said he could not comment on the case.
Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee and has been the most vocal opponent of settling the case, also declined to comment on the vote.
But Krekorian said last week that a settlement would send the wrong message to both police officers and future criminals.
"It would be a cold day in hell when I would be supportive of giving a boatload of money to somebody who is involved in shooting at the citizens of Los Angeles," Krekorian said earlier. "I just think it's fundamentally wrong."
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who retired as a police officer in January to become a council member, commended Benevides and Flores and said they acted according to their training.
"We have two goals as police officers -- to ensure the people in this city feel safe and to come home to our families every night," Buscaino said. "What kind of message does it send if we make millionaires out of gang members because they got injured while committing a crime? It makes no sense to me and it's a dangerous precedent to set."
-- City News Service